"Fatherhood: Six Men, One City" documents Milwaukee's black, male experience
There are certain social justice issues an urban university has prime access and ability to address.
For Dr. David Pate and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Social Work Department, the impediments facing Milwaukee's black male population in accessing social services is just that issue.
In their soon to be released documentary, "Fatherhood: Six Men, One City," Pate and several social work students aim to enlighten and motivate Milwaukeeans about a seldom addressed community within our own.
"I wanted to look at how, particularly in a place where unemployment for the population is so high, do men make ends meet?" Pate says.
Pate, whose research started in Milwaukee in 1997, specifically focuses on the lack of social services available to men, particularly fathers. Facing issues of unemployment, incarceration, healthcare and custody, Pate saw a gap in support for fathers who were generally denied access to individual and family services.
Pate's previous research looked at the reality of disparity in services witnessed by black males. In face to face interviews with men whose income ranged from in the negative to $12,000 per year, Pate began to grasp the context and struggle of fighting for support.
Continuing his intial research, Pate, along with UW-Milwaukee Social Work students Ben Van Orsdol, Monica Czekala, Dan Trifone and Tyler Albers, began filming a documentary to give inner city black men a voice for their experience.
In doing so, Pate hoped to uncover what it means to be poor and black in Milwaukee as well as underscore the strength of a socioeconomic group plagued by an unemployment rate nearly 50%.
"Often times we don't listen to the stories of black men. We tend to demonize them but it's such a broad stereotype with so many dimensions that just aren't true. I think what the men appreciate is a chance to give their voice, to give their pain and find someone listening to understand their way of life," Pate says.
A process nearly two years in the making, Pate's students began with coursework and readings to educate themselves on the realities of the low-income experience. Filming began mid- 2008 with Pate in the lead; slowly shifting students into head roles to run interviews one on one with film participants.
"In Milwaukee, services are geared specifically for women and children but for a man with children or a single man it's very difficult to navigate the system," Ben Van Orsdol, one of four cooperating social work students says.
In partnership with Milwaukee's Fatherhood Collaborative, Pate located six men who were either in contact with their children or starting to reestablish a relationship. As "Fatherhood: Six Men, One City" illustrates, the six men showed six very diverse situations.
"There are institutional restraints, particularly in Milwaukee, facing the black community as a whole but individual situations can be very different. For instance, one man we're working with has a Masters in Social Work, another is a Vietnam war vet who has great health benefits and another who has just the opposite- who has a serious medical condition," Van Orsdol says.
Through a series of interviews and meetings, Pate and his students reveal similarities in external and institutional barriers but illustrate great divergence in techniques used to creatively circumnavigate societal constraints.
"The isolation of the black community in Milwaukee is both geographical and economical. It involves the availability of jobs, transportation and education," Van Orsdol says.
The documentary includes interviews with Donald Sykes of the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board, Marc Levine of UWM's Center for Economic Development and Albert Holmes and Charles Richardson both of Milwaukee's Fatherhood Collaborative.
"There are a lot of preconceived notions about what it means to be in poverty; it tends to brand individuals and that's all they are. We hope to give them a personality and a voice that's unique to them. We want to challenge people's idea of what it means to be poor; still be a person, to have dignity and the kind of personality we all kind of hope people give us a chance for," Van Orsdol says.
Pate and Van Orsdol hope city officials, social workers and community advocates will get a chance to see "Fatherhood: Six Men, One City" and the film's findings will spark political and social change.
"The way you practice social work is sometimes very different from the way the policy was developed and often policy makers, are not looking at things from the ground level," Pate says.
After local screenings at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Center and UWM in early April, Pate and collaborators will present their findings to the national community at the "Second annual National Conference on Social Work With and For Men" at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
"We want policies to be challenged; not just people's perception but we're hoping for active change. We expect the documentary to start a conversation, both literally and figuratively," Van Orsdol says.
"Fatherhood: Six Men, One City" screens April 1 at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, 1531 W. Vliet St. and April 9 in the UWM Union.
Thank you for this story! I am looking foward to seeing this.
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